Growing up, I was one of those weird kids from a weird family. In an attempt to shelter my siblings and me, my parents refused to have internet or cable television in the house. For a time, we had a hunky desktop plugged into the ethernet cable where we could spend 20 minutes a day playing games on Miniclip or Disney.com. But when our time ran up, we had nothing to connect us to the outside world. As a homeschooled kid in the backwoods of the Upper Peninsula, I really didn’t have the option of hanging out with the local kids, especially since the nearest neighbor under the age of 60 was about five miles away. So that had me turning to my own world: my world of books.
Without the distractions of the rest of the world, I spent every free moment engrossed in “Robinson Crusoe”, “The History of The World” and even Isaac Asimov’s “The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science”, along with any other book I could get my hands on. I would read in the hayloft in order to hide from my siblings. I would read by flashlight when everyone else was sleeping. I would even lock myself in the bathroom in order to finish another chapter. I was addicted to reading and it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
As I got older, I continued my reading frenzy, and when I joined the public-school system in high school, I was the class nerd. Not in a bad way either — it was easy to integrate when everyone wanted to sit next to you, even if it was for all the wrong reasons. I was top of the class and it was all thanks to the vast amounts of reading I had done. My books had taught me everything from astronomy to world history to global economics.
I continued to read throughout high school, striving to finish two or three books every month. It helped me to improve my writing as well and taught me to read critically. I felt much more comfortable writing academic papers and my college application essays. I can say I wouldn’t be at such a prestigious university if it weren’t for the skills I had gained while locked away in the bathroom.
It was a habit I let go when I first began my college career, because of my busy schedule and all the excitement that goes along with being a freshman in college. As a result, I suffered the worst grades I had ever earned. Ever. As a kid who was grounded more than once for bringing back a progress report that proclaimed an A-, I was appalled at myself (to this day, my own mother hasn’t a clue, heaven have mercy).
When my second year rolled around, I told myself I would pick up reading again, in an attempt to distance myself from the distractions of technology and social media. The results? I received exponentially better grades, a feeling of better self-esteem and, surprisingly, more time on my hands. I was amazed at what a difference it made for me and rather disappointed in myself for having lost that. I hadn’t realized what a profound impact such a simple habit had on my life.
According to a study conducted at Stanford University, “reading is the workout the brain needs in order to stay in its optimal health.” It serves to improve vocabulary, analytical and communicative skills, as well as enhance your memory and ability to focus and concentrate. It can even help to reduce stress and, according to Anne E. Cunningham’s paper “What Reading Does for the Mind” it serves to keep you sharp as you age. If you don’t believe me, listen to Lisa Bu’s TED Talk, “How Books Can Open Your Mind.”
In today’s world, books are more accessible than they have ever been before. More accessible than they have been throughout history. With e-books, public libraries and school campuses, it is nearly impossible to find yourself without access to a book. There is even a “take-a-book-leave-a-book” library next to Washtenaw Dairy, and many others like it all over the country. You don’t even need a library card! So what are you waiting for? Join the likes of self-proclaimed avid readers Steve Jobs and Phil Knight (among a multitude of others), get down to your local library and set those brain cells to the grindstone — the results might just surprise you.
Lucas Dean can be reached email@example.com